Detection of Static Electricity
by Ron Kurtus (revised 18 February 2016)
You can detect static electricity through the principle of electrostatic induction, which indicates if there are static electrical charges on the surface of some object.
Electrostatic induction brings opposite electrical charges to the surface of a material and can be combined with the property that like charges repel to demonstrate the existence of static electricity.
The most common static electricity detector is the electroscope. Electronic amplification of the induced charges is another method to detect static electricity.
Questions you may have include:
- How can you use the property that opposites attract?
- How does an electroscope work?
- What is an electrostatic locator?
This lesson will answer those questions. Useful tool: Units Conversion
Induction plus opposites attract
When you bring an item with a static electric charge near an object that is not charged, the electric field surrounding the static electric charges will induce or draw the opposite electrical charges toward the surface of that material. This works the best with materials that conduct electricity, but it will also work with most other materials to a lesser degree.
If the neutral item is lightweight, it will be drawn toward the other item once the opposite charge is induced. A simple experiment to demonstrate this method of detecting the presence of static electricity is to pick up some pieces of tissue with a comb you have run through your hair or a balloon that was rubbed on wool. Or you could attract a pith ball or small roll of paper that is hanging on a string.
In other words, you could use a lightweight object on a string as a static electricity detector. You would just bring it close to the other object to see if it is attracted.
You can even use the hairs on your arm to detect static electricity. The hairs will stand on end and point toward the static charge.
An electroscope is a device that detects static electricity by using thin metal or plastic leaves, which separate when charged.
An object with a suspected static electric charge is brought near the metal plate or ball of the electroscope. Electrical charges move to the metal and down to the foil leaves, which then repel each other. Since each leaf has the same charge (positive or negative), they repel each other.
A simple electroscope can be easily made.
A simple electroscope detects static charges
Electroscopes can also be used to measure the amount of static electricity.
Professional electroscope is calibrated to measure static electricity
A professional or laboratory electroscope is calibrated to not only detect static electricity, but also to determine the size of the charge or electrical field.
An electrostatic locator is an electronic device used to detect and measure the electrostatic fields around objects. It uses electronic amplification of the induced charges and displays the amount on a meter.
Electrostatic locator detects static electricity
Unfortunately, this device is fairly expensive ($400), so it is primarily used in industry where static electricity may be causing problems.
Electrostatic induction brings opposite electrical charges to the surface of a material and can be combined with the property that like charges repel to demonstrate the existence of static electricity. The most common static electricity detector is the electroscope. Electronic amplification of the induced charges is another method to detect static electricity.
Positive attitudes help you succeed
Resources and references
Questions and comments
Do you have any questions, comments, or opinions on this subject? If so, send an email with your feedback. I will try to get back to you as soon as possible.
Click on a button to bookmark or share this page through Twitter, Facebook, email, or other services:
Students and researchers
The Web address of this page is:
Please include it as a link on your website or as a reference in your report, document, or thesis.
Where are you now?
Detection of Static Electricity